Swimming Under Stone
When I came back from my 93 days of Write or Die with the manuscript for You Don’t Look Adopted in hand, I had a pit of debt, no home, and no job. One reason I was so willing to go into debt to write about adoption was because I thought the task would kill me. I don’t know what to compare writing about adoption as an adoptee to—nothing else stops my heart and breathing in the same way.
The closest I can come is this: one time, I was swimming in a river with a friend and my young daughter. There were rocky formations and my friend told me I could swim under one to the other side. Not wanting to look like a chicken, I asked him to keep an eye on my daughter as I dove under water. I went into the black chill, under the stony ceiling, and after too many strokes to turn around with enough breath, I realized I had made a mistake, and my daughter had just watched her mother swim herself to her death. My hubris shrank my soul and I cursed my stupidity. When I came out the other side, I was quieter, smaller, ashamed. I still have trouble with this memory. I could hold it with pride: I’m fearless. I’m strong. I can survive anything. But the way I see it is: what a fucking idiot. Your kid was there. Writing about adoption feels like that, like maybe you will betray everything most essential to you, but while I no longer am reckless in my choices of what I do physically, I am reckless on the page because I have found writing truth, although it can feel like courting death, is just dancing with what brought you.
To really write about what it feels like to be adopted is to swim in dark waters where there may not be another side, because there is no other side to swim to, there is no way to return to the moment of relinquishment and get her back, and so, in the writing, you have to swim into loss and look for a way to love yourself when your infant brain told you that since your mother didn’t seem to want you, you must be worthless and so you spend the rest of your life trying to finish the job, trying to get rid of yourself while the adult part of your brain fights back, wonders what the heck you are doing as you throw hard earned money out the car window as you drive down the street.
But this is why I am still dedicating the rest of my life to helping people do exactly what I did—to find a way to write or create their story—because while the journey feels like a reckless walk across a high wire making us so afraid to breath, to make any sudden move because our fear is almost paralyzing us, our fear that, at the end of the day, when our ego falls away and we are stripped to our airy essence, the whole world will see we are not good enough, that we do not measure up, and we realize we should have stayed turtled and safe under the shell of you don’t really know me because I don’t even really know myself. Because while this is so terrifying many of us choose to skip the journey all together, here’s the secret that my friend Kate Peuvrelle taught me: the high wire is not in the air: it’s a line on the ground, and, surprise, surprise, the danger is all in your mind. You are safe.
And how are you safe? When I came back from New York, my friend Scooter made sure my bank account was full. My friend Antonia gave me a place to live. My friend Karen gave me long hours of design work on my book. My friend Mark gave me a place to work. My friend Erin made me a website. My friend HBL offered daily support and love. My friend Kate talked me down from the wire. My daughter wrote I love you, Mama. And I haven’t even given you the list of people who helped me while I was IN New York. You will spiderweb yourself to safety through connection. Start being nice to people now. Ask them what they need. Give give give. Don’t worry about what you get back. Give it all away.
Go ahead. Ask me for favors. Ask for the shirt off my back. See what happens. I’ll start wearing an undershirt just to be safe. And, yes, I do have limits. You can’t have that.